The Lord has taken Margaret Jo Engle’s hand and led her home. “Jo,” as she was known to the world, passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family, in her Lawrenceville, Ga. home. Word has it, however, that since she was a pilot for much of her life, the Heavenly Father allowed her to board the first plane she owned, a 4-seater Piper Cherokee she named “Putsy,” and, with God as her co-pilot, slip the surly bonds on laughter-silvered wings (to quote her favorite poem), and, fighting turbulence all the way, stick a perfect-touch landing and roll to the entrance at Heaven’s Gate. The angels, it is believed, cheered her journey and gave thumbs up all around to an extraordinary life well lived, welcoming her to eternity to be spent with loved ones gone before and, most especially, Jesus, her Lord and Savior. She was 83. To much of the world in her final months here, Jo was every bit the quintessential Southern Belle and Church Lady who drove her Cadillac only around the block on Sundays and leaned in to hear what you had to say, the result of late-in-life hearing loss. If she wasn’t playing Wahoo, the board game similar to Parcheesi, with her dear circle of other Church Lady friends, or laughing about something silly with her best friend, Kathryn “Kitty” Cruse (or watching an episode of “Blue Bloods,” her favorite TV show--“That Tom Selleck is still the handsomest man alive,” she would say), she was thumbing through the well-worn, heavily underlined and asterisked Bible given to her by her sister, Gerrie D’Angelo (Just because I love you!) and praying for the Lord’s will in everything, including her battle against cancer. Those who knew Jo best, knew she was indeed that lady, but hardly the shy flower such a description might suggest. She was smart, feisty, quick, and funny, and could—and would—launch into the cinematic retelling of a tale from her past (“Did I ever tell you about the time Prince Albert got crowned?” Prince Albert, that is, the family rooster.) Yes, the listener would say, but it was too late. In her mind’s eye, and now yours, she was already being terrorized by the rooster, along with her siblings, Robert C. “Buddy” Pittard, Gerrie, and Patrick S. “Pat” Pittard. Jo was born November 12, 1935, in Atlanta, and spent much of her childhood in Snellville, where she lived in a log cabin built by her mother, Margaret Pittard (nee Mayo), her step-father, Samuel “Frank” Pittard, and her brothers and sister. The family dug its own swimming pool and Jo, showing the work ethic that would define her later professional life, sold Coca-Colas to passing farmers and townsfolk from a road-side stand. The family moved to Ohio for several years, but Jo’s heart always yearned for the red clay and pecans and peaches of her home state. It was in Atlanta, while working for NASA, that she met the love of her life, George Engle. Jo, having been previously married and divorced, was reluctant to walk the aisle again. But George was persistent and, though he was literally a rocket scientist, it didn’t take an aeronautics expert to see how much Jo loved him in return. The two were married in Atlanta, beginning a romance for the ages. The newlyweds clanged away from the chapel in George’s Volkswagon Beetle trailing a wake of cans on strings and the words “Just Friends” written on the rear window in white shoe polish. George even talked Jo into taking along Jo’s children, Patricia Crevey (Nee Smith) and Bryan Smith on the honeymoon, a week of family bliss at Pensacola Florida. George and Jo had nearly ten years together, when George, a decorated World War II veteran injured in the Argonne Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, died of lung cancer in 1976. Jo never remarried. No one ever again measured up and just the mention of his name never failed to bring a tear and one of Jo’s stories about their remarkable decade together. Jo lived an extraordinary life on her own. She was a painter and writer who loved nature and animals. Though not famous in the conventional sense, she achieved a measure of fame working in for a time in Richmond, Virginia, with the late veteran broadcaster, Harvey Hudson. One of the highlights of her broadcast career was covering the Miss American Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Reeling with grief after George’s death, she had a ready answer when her own mother asked if there was something she had always wanted to do. Yes, she answered. She wanted to learn to fly an airplane. She took her first lesson about a year after George’s death. Within months, she had soloed, and not long after earned her private pilot’s license. One of her favorite jobs was working as sales assistant at Epps Aviation, the private airfield in north Atlanta. Jo didn’t recognize many of the celebrities who flew into Epps, but she did know Frank Sinatra, and copped to appropriating one of his tea cups while he was giving his concert in the city. While at Epps, Jo worked with the team of recovery specialists who found and rescued a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a World War II combat plane locked in the ice of Greenland Ice Cap, an effort that became the subject of a book, “The Lost Squadron.” Jo also worked as a volunteer throughout the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But far and away Jo’s greatest passion and greatest dedication was to serving God the Father and Jesus Christ. She did so in ways both small and anonymous—planting the seed of Christianity to those in need, including fellow employees at was then Tucker Concrete—and during missionary trips halfway around the world to the Romanian Republic of Moldova. Now, if you hear a private plane buzzing overhead it’s probably just a plane. But her family would like to think that it is Jo, in heaven with George, flinging “her eager craft through footless halls of air,” the love of her savior shining on her putting out her hand to the face of God. Jo’s survivors include her daughter, Patricia, son, Bryan, sister, Gerrie D’Angelo, brothers Robert C. and Patrick S. Pittard, and four grandchildren, Molly Jo, Joseph Crevey, William Crevey, and Elise Marie Smith.
Jo’s Funeral service will be at Bill Head Funeral Home, Lilburn-Tucker Chapel, 6101 Lawrenceville Highway, Tucker, Ga. 30084, Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 12 noon with visitation beginning at 11 am. Interment will be at Floral Hills Memory Gardens, Tucker, Ga.